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Zum Howard County Public Schools System Updates (LAST UPDATED MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2023)

ZUM HOWARD COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM UPDATES 

Zum is honored to serve the students and families of the Howard County Public School System. HCPSS faced county-wide transportation challenges at the start of this school year, the result of two major issues. First, a new 3-tier bell schedule, instituted at the start of this school year, which overly compressed bus routes, shortened turnaround time, and resulted in widespread delays. Second, Howard County’s decades-long driver shortage of 100+ drivers.

We are pleased to note that these challenges have now been systematically addressed. At Zum, we have been consistently at or near 100% route coverage since the start of September, and further, with the September 20th changes to HCPSS bell times, on-time performance is now up to Zum’s standard of excellence: 98% of rides on time in the mornings, and 90+% in the afternoons. We continue to work with HCPSS to provide data that will further enhance the District’s routing system, and believe that, working together, Howard County will see a new level of student transportation service commensurate with that of Zum customers across the country.

ON-TIME PERFORMANCE IMPROVED DRAMATICALLY WITH NEW HCPSS BELL TIMES

On Wednesday, September 20th, Howard County Public Schools rolled out slight adjustments to school bell times. (See the announcement on the HCPSS website. For an itemized list of start and end times by school, click here.)

A major cause of bus delays this year was the compression of allotted routing time. In the 2022-2023 school year, morning bus routes were allocated 2 hours of driving time, and afternoon routes 1 hour and 45 minutes. For the start of the 2023-2024 school year, those times were compressed to 1 hour and 15 minutes for morning routes, and 1 hour for afternoon routes. This simply wasn’t enough time to transport students in a safe and timely manner, as evidenced by the delays experienced across Howard County.

These new bell schedules, which HCPSS put into effect on Wednesday, September 20th, reintroduce much needed slack time between routes. Now, bus drivers are able to turn their routes around and deal with things like traffic and vehicle congestion at school. 

The new bell schedule has dramatically improved on-time performance. For morning routes, before the change, only 76% of Tier 3 bus routes were delivering students to school on time. Now, that number is 96-98%. The difference in afternoon routes is even more promising. Before the change, only 25% of Tier 3 bus routes were dropping students off at home on time. After the change, that number is 90+%. While this still leaves room for growth, it is a dramatic improvement over the start of the year. Find a report on this improvement at the HCPSS website, here

We want to thank HCPSS for working swiftly to resolve this difficult issue, the students and families of Howard County for their patience as we’ve worked through these challenges, and the bus drivers of Howard County, who continue to show up every day to do a fantastic job transporting our students and children. Zum remains committed to delivering the best student transportation service possible. 

BETTER EVERY DAY

We fully recognize the difficulty our parents and students have experienced with our rollout serving HCPSS, and we are working around the clock to improve. To provide utmost transparency, we will offer real-time updates as we have them, with the goal of having everything running smoothly as soon as possible.

 

September 19, 2023 

  • For afternoon bus service, Zum covered 100% of our 210 bus routes. 
  • For morning bus service Zum covered 100% of our 210 bus routes.
  • Zum has also resumed coverage of 3 additional bus routes, in our effort to continue serving the students and families of Howard County.
  • The Zum Parent App is available for download in the Apple Store (iOS) or via Google Play (Android). With it, you can track your child’s bus, see information about your child’s driver, and receive notifications about on-time performance.
  • You can find more detailed information about bus routes on the HCPSS website, here.

September 18, 2023 

  • For afternoon bus service, Zum covered 100% of our 210 bus routes. 
  • For morning bus service Zum covered 100% of our 210 bus routes.
  • Zum has also resumed coverage of 3 additional bus routes, in our effort to continue serving the students and families of Howard County.
  • As a reminder, the Zum Parent App is available for download in the Apple Store (iOS) or via Google Play (Android). With it, you can track your child’s bus, see information about your child’s driver, and receive notifications about on-time performance.
  • Finally, HCPSS is now reporting that all Howard County bus routes have service. There are no routes discontinued or canceled. This is very exciting, and we want to offer our gratitude to the bus drivers who continue to serve these routes.
  • You can find more detailed information about bus routes on the HCPSS website, here.

 

September 14, 2023 

  • For afternoon bus service, Zum covered 100% of our 210 bus routes. 
  • For morning bus service Zum covered 100% of our 210 bus routes.
  • The Zum Parent App remains available in the Apple Store (iOS) or via Google Play (Android). With it, you can track your child’s bus, see information about your child’s driver, and receive notifications about on-time performance.
  • Finally, we continue to work with HCPSS to resolve delays. For more information, see the HCPSS website here.

September 13, 2023

  • For afternoon bus service, Zum covered 100% of our 210 bus routes. 
  • For morning bus service Zum covered 100% of our 210 bus routes.
  • We continue to recruit, hire, and train drivers to ensure 100% route coverage. 
  • The Zum Parent App remains available in the Apple Store (iOS) or via Google Play (Android). Download it today to track your child’s bus, see information about your child’s driver, and receive notifications about on-time performance.
  • Finally, we continue to work with HCPSS to resolve delays. For more information about discontinued bus routes, see the HCPSS website here.

September 12, 2023 

  • For afternoon bus service, Zum covered 100% of our 210 bus routes. 
  • For morning bus service Zum covered 100% of our 210 bus routes.
  • We continue to recruit, hire, and train drivers to ensure 100% route coverage. 
  • The Zum Parent App remains available in the Apple Store (iOS) or via Google Play (Android). Download it today to track your child’s bus, see information about your child’s driver, and receive notifications about on-time performance.
  • Finally, we continue to work with HCPSS to resolve delays. For more information about discontinued bus routes, see the HCPSS website here.

September 11, 2023 

  • For afternoon bus service, Zum covered 97.6% of our 210 bus routes. 
  • For morning bus service Zum covered 98.1% of our 210 bus routes.
  • We continue to recruit, hire, and train drivers to ensure 100% route coverage. 
  • As a reminder, after many requests to make it available, we’re very excited that the Zum Parent App is now ready for download. Any parents whose children ride a Zum bus can download it. On the app, parents are able to follow the progress of their child’s bus, see information about their child’s bus driver, and receive notifications about on-time performance. Download the App in the Apple Store (iOS) or via Google Play (Android). 
  • Finally, we understand that many buses are still delayed. As we have noted, the cause of these delays is the back-to-back stacking of bus routes, which are set by HCPSS and leave no time for our drivers to safely unload their students and begin their next route. We are working diligently with HCPSS to resolve this issue, and will remedy it as soon as possible.
  • You can read more about the App, and find more information about discontinued bus routes, at the HCPSS website, here.

September 8, 2023

  • For afternoon bus service, Zum covered 100% of our 210 bus routes.
  • For morning bus service, Zum covered 98% of our 210 bus routes.
  • We continue to recruit, hire, and train drivers to ensure 100% route coverage. 
  • We understand that many buses are still delayed. The cause of these delays is the back-to-back stacking of bus routes, which are set by HCPSS and leave no time for our drivers to safely unload their students and begin their next route. We are working diligently with HCPSS to resolve this route stacking issue, with the goal of remedying these delays as soon as possible. 
  • For further details and information about discontinued routes and delays in Howard County, please refer to the HCPSS website, here.

 

September 7, 2023

  • For afternoon bus service, Zum covered 100% of our 210 bus routes.
  • For morning bus service, Zum covered 98.6% of our 210 bus routes.
  • We continue to recruit, hire, and train drivers to ensure 100% route coverage.
  • The Zum Parent App will be available for Howard County parents this evening. You can download the App in the Apple Store (iOS) or via Google Play (Android). 
  • For further details and information about discontinued routes and delays in Howard County, please refer to the HCPSS website, here.

 

September 6, 2023

  • For afternoon bus service, Zum covered 100% of our 210 bus routes.
  • For morning bus service, Zum covered 100% of our 210 bus routes.
  • For further details and information about discontinued routes and delays in Howard County, please refer to the HCPSS website, here.

 

September 5, 2023

  • For afternoon bus service, Zum covered 100% of our 210 bus routes in Howard County.
  • For this morning’s bus service, we covered 97.6% of our 210 bus routes. 
  • We remain committed to providing timely and reliable transportation to Howard County, and are actively working with HCPSS to resolve issues related to route stacking, which is a significant contributor to delays.
  • For further details and information about discontinued routes and delays in Howard County, please refer to the HCPSS website, here.

September 4, 2023

  • We are prepared and excited for the second week of school, beginning tomorrow, Tuesday, September 5th. 
  • All 210 of our current bus routes are fully operational, and we will be monitoring them to ensure maximum on-time performance.
  • For information about discontinued routes, please refer to the HCPSS website, here. We will continue to update this blog with our progress.

September 2, 2023

  • We will be working through the weekend. 
  • We had over 30 certified school bus drivers apply over the last two days who will be trained and certified over the weekend.
  • We are conducting dry runs with our new drivers and have given an option to our existing school bus drivers to conduct dry runs. 
  • We are working with the district to improve the stacking of routes for timeliness of rides.

September 1, 2023

  • We will be working through the weekend. 
  • We had over 30 certified school bus drivers apply over the last two days who will be trained and certified over the weekend.
  • We have given an option to our existing school bus drivers to conduct dry runs over the weekend.
  • The Howard County Public School [HCPSS] District’s team continues to pilot the Zum Parent App. District staff with children in HCPSS experienced the app live during the ride hours today.
  • We continue to work with HCPSS to help resolve the route stacking challenge that is causing Middle and Elementary school route delays.
  • For the 20 routes that were canceled this week, as leadership noted at the Board of Education meeting on Thursday and then in their message on Friday, HCPSS is looking for ways to fill these routes. In the meanwhile, Zum is also actively hiring drivers. We are running classes to certify school bus drivers over this long weekend and next week.

August 31, 2023

  • Earlier today, our CEO and COO met in person with HCPSS Superintendent Martirano. Our leadership provided Dr. Martirano with updates on our progress, and reaffirmed our commitment to rectifying all existing issues and providing every student in Howard County with safe and reliable transportation. 
  • Today, 210 of our routes were fully operational. Earlier in the week, we made the proactive decision to discontinue service to 20 routes. These 20 routes remain discontinued, and we are doing everything we can to restore them. 
  • To fully serve our 210 operational routes, we brought in 72 fully-trained and certified drivers from other locations to fill gaps left by the national driver shortage. 
  • As of this weekend, (September 2nd), 46 of our out of state drivers will return to their homes in Washington State to prepare for the start of school in Spokane and Seattle. To fill this gap, we have brought in additional drivers, all of whom are also fully-trained and certified. These new drivers have received their routes and will conduct multiple rounds of dry runs on Saturday, Sunday, and Labor Day on Monday, and will be prepared to serve HCPSS on Tuesday, September 5th. 
  • To fill open driver positions, we continue to offer a robust incentive plan: an $8,000 sign-on bonus for all certified bus drivers who join Zum, and $500 per month for any driver who goes a month without an absence on their record. 
  • We have fielded many questions about dry runs in advance of this first week of school. Our drivers conducted multiple dry runs one week in advance of the start of school, per our standard protocol. Unfortunately, we were delivered new routes two days before the start of school, on Saturday, August 26th, and Sunday, August 27th, less than 24 hours before the start of school. Additionally, the routes were not digitized. Once we received the routes, we digitized them and uploaded them into our system. This caused delays on the first day of school. However, all Zum drivers now have full route information, including GPS-enabled tablets and turn-by-turn directions. 
  • We have also fielded questions about the Zum Parent App. HCPSS is conducting a pilot of the App starting Friday (9/1), with the goal to deploy the App broadly to all Zum parents and guardians. Once HCPSS approves the app, parents and guardians will be able to follow their children’s rides in real-time.
  • Finally, we are working with HCPSS to assess routing challenges. It is important to note that during this, our first week of school, Zum used routing data provided and designed by HCPSS. HCPSS has now asked us to analyze that data and all current routes, and make recommendations for changes that will resolve stacking delays. We anticipate that this will much improve day-to-day performance. Further, in an attempt to rectify the back-to-back (stacked) bell schedules implemented by HCPSS this calendar year, we are advising HCPSS on the optimal bell schedule, which will uphold student learning while making it possible to better serve HCPSS’ transportation needs.

August 30, 2023

  • Today, to encourage bus driver attendance, we rolled out a $500/month bonus for any driver who goes a month without an absence.
  • To further incentivize new drivers to join Zum, we also rolled out an $8,000 sign-on bonus for certified school bus drivers.
  • It is important to note that while all buses begin the day on time, buses fall behind as the day progresses. This is because our bus routes are “stacked.” Traditionally, HCPSS has operated with two bell schedules. This year, for the first time, HCPSS rolled out three different bell schedules: 1) elementary school, 2) middle school, and 3) high school. There is very little time between each bell schedule (this is “stacking”). One of our drivers may be fully on time in delivering elementary school students, but he or she might be late when delivering middle or high school students. We are working diligently with HCPSS to resolve this stacking issue. 

August 29, 2023 

  • As of today, we have digitized all routes and entered them into our GPS system. This means all Zum drivers have full route information, including GPS-enabled tablets and turn-by-turn directions for every stop on their route.
  • Yesterday, 20 of our drivers called in stating they would not come in to work. Today, we made the proactive decision to discontinue service to 20 routes. In deciding which routes to discontinue, we ensured that no single school was unduly affected, and gave priority to routes that serve vulnerable or disabled students. 
  • Today, we successfully implemented a staggered morning departure schedule to eliminate traffic leaving our bus yard.
  • As of this morning, 210 of our routes were fully operational. Of those routes, 95% reported an on-time arrival on their first stop, though our buses are experiencing delays in subsequent routes due to stacking. We are working with HCPSS to improve this stacked routing, and will post updates here. 

August 28, 2023

  • On Saturday, August 26th, HCPSS delivered new and modified paper routes to Zum. This delayed our ability to digitize all routes and enter them into our GPS system, and led to some drivers using printed directions. We are working on a solution and will post an update here. 
  • This morning, 20 of our drivers called in stating they would not come in to work that day. We are currently facing a national driver shortage, as well as delays in driver certification at the State level. We are working on a solution and will post an update here. 
  • Today, we are experiencing delayed bus arrivals due to traffic congestion leaving our bus yard. We are working on a solution and will post an update here. 

 

HOW WE GOT HERE 

Zum was awarded the Howard County Public School System contract earlier this year in a competitive bid to provide high-quality, safe and reliable experience. 

As a part of this contract, Zum proposed bringing to Howard County: 

  • 230 bus routes;
  • 250 buses (including a 10% buffer);
  • A parent-facing app to allow parents to view the profile of their child’s bus driver, track their child’s progress in real-time, and keep tabs on their child’s pick up and drop off status; (Note: At the request of HCPSS, Zum’s parent-facing app will not go live until after the start of school);
  • A digital dashboard for district administrators and operators, allowing for tracking of school buses from start to finish on a live map and the ability to adjust routes in real-time to account for traffic and absent students;
  • And real-time data reports to HCPSS in order to enable timely and effective decision-making about each student’s transportation to and from school. 

Since being awarded the HCPSS contract, we have worked diligently to be ready on Day 1 and provide the best student transportation available.

 

TACKLING CHALLENGES

In our first week serving HCPSS, we have faced several challenges. We fully recognize how disruptive this is for parents and students, and we apologize to the families impacted. We are doing everything we can to address each one. 

1. How many routes is Zum currently serving? Are those routes on time?

Of the 230 routes we were originally awarded, we are currently serving 210, all of which are fully operational.

As of Tuesday, August 29th, 95% of our buses are on time for their first stop. However, over the course of the day, buses have been falling behind. This is because many bus routes are packed tightly back-to-back, or “stacked.” We are working around the clock with HCPSS to resolve this and all outstanding issues.

2. Why is your bus late picking up my child?

A late bus pickup is disruptive to students and parents, and we apologize to all those experiencing delays. Our buses leave our yard each morning on time, yet they fall behind over the course of the day. This is because our bus routes are “stacked.”

Traditionally, HCPSS has operated with two bell schedules. This year, for the first time, HCPSS rolled out three different bell schedules: 1) 8:00AM to 2:45PM, 2) 8:40AM to 3:25PM, and 3) 9:15AM to 3:45PM. (These are often referred to as Tier, Tier 2, and Tier 3). Generally speaking, high schools operate on the Tier 1 schedule, middle schools operate on the Tier 2 schedule, and elementary school students operate on the Tier 3 schedule.

This new 3-tier schedule is good for our students, but is causing delays in transportation. Today, every bus driver in Howard County must complete three back-to-back routes in the morning, and three in the afternoon. There is little to no time between each route, making delays a certainty. (This is what is called route “stacking.”)

A bus driver might be on time delivering High School students at 8AM, but by the time she drops off Middle School students, she is behind, with Elementary School pickups and dropoffs most impacted. This is particularly troubling, because it is our youngest students who can least effectively deal with transportation challenges and delays. If we’re going to fix this problem, we need to resolve the route stacking. We hope to help you do so by suggesting optimized bell schedules.

We are currently working with HCPSS to resolve this stacking issue, so that we can provide safe and timely transportation to all Howard County students.

3. Why did Zum cancel 20 routes?

On Monday morning, several of our drivers called out—that is, they decided not to show up for work. As a result, we made the proactive decision to stop service to 20 of our routes. In deciding which routes to discontinue, we ensured that no single school was unduly affected, and gave priority to routes that serve vulnerable students, or students with disabilities. We are working as hard as we can to service these routes, while maintaining full service of our already operational routes. We will provide updates as we progress.

4. Why is the Zum parent app not working?

HCPSS made the decision to deploy Zum’s parent app after the start of school. It is currently available, and HCPSS will notify parents as soon as they decide to make it accessible.

5. Why are drivers late, or getting lost? Is your GPS not working?

We received paper routes from HCPSS on Saturday, August 26th, and Sunday, August 27th, less than 24 hours before the start of school. (It is important to note that HCPSS designs and lays out all bus routes, and delivers them to Zum for transportation services.) As of Tuesday, August 29th, all Zum drivers now have full route information, GPS-enabled tablets, and turn-by-turn directions for every stop on their route.

6. Drivers are getting lost. Did Zum not conduct dry runs?

Yes, Zum drivers performed dry runs the week before the start of school. However, we received new routes from HCPSS on Saturday, August 26th, and Sunday, August 27th, less than 24 hours before the start of school. These routes were materially different than the ones we previously received. Given the late delivery, we did not have enough time to conduct additional dry runs to test and vet the new routes prior to the first day of school on Monday, August 28th.

7. Why were you short on drivers?

We are currently in the midst of a national bus driver shortage. Howard County, too, has felt the effects: since the pandemic, Howard County has experienced a shortage of around 100 school bus drivers. For the last several months, we’ve been working tirelessly to recruit and hire new drivers. 

Hiring new school bus drivers is a complex, multi-step process. To ensure the utmost safety for our children, prospective drivers must train extensively, and pass State-level certifications. This year, we experienced a significant logjam in this State certification process, but we are working to certify all drivers in a safe and timely manner.

To address this issue, we have brought in fully-trained and certified drivers from other Zum locations to provide temporary coverage. These drivers are highly-qualified, trained, and have gone through additional certification to drive in the State of Maryland and Howard County. In the meantime, we continue to recruit, train, and certify new drivers every day.

8. I heard Zum buses were having trouble leaving the yard. What are you doing about that?

As of Tuesday, August 29th, we have implemented a staggered morning departure schedule, and have already seen a dramatic improvement. 95% of our buses are now on-time for their first stop, and we are working to bring that number even higher.

 

9. Does Zum control routes? What do I do if I have an issue with my route?

No, Zum does not control routes. HCPSS designs all routes and sends them to all Howard County transportation contractors. For inquiries or questions about specific routes, please contact HCPSS directly, here.

10. Did HCPSS change to a 3-tier school schedule because of Zum?

No. The HCPSS Board of Education voted to change from a 2-tier bell schedule to a 3-tier bell schedule in February of 2023, before Zum was awarded the HCPSS contract. HCPSS sets the bell schedules as well as all bus routes for Howard County, while we at Zum deliver the student transportation services. For further questions you can contact the District here.

 

11. Do all Zum buses have air conditioning?

A good portion of Zum buses already have air-conditioning. We are working to retrofit the buses without it so that all our drivers and students can ride to and from school in comfort.

 

12. I just downloaded the Zum Parent App. Why can’t I track if my child got on or off the bus?

Thank you for downloading the Parent App. While you can track the location of your child’s bus, parents are not able to track their individual child because we have not yet rolled out RFID cards. We are working with HCPSS to roll out this feature, at which point every parent will be able to track the location of their child.

 

13. Why is my child walking? Is it because Zum didn’t have enough buses?

Walking Zones are determined by HCPSS, and are not in Zum’s control. We are working around the clock to ensure reliable and timely service of all bus routes.

 

14. Did Zum change the District boundaries?

No. Howard County went through a redistricting process well before Zum was awarded the contract to service HCPSS. For further questions you can contact the District here.

15. Zum claims to be a more sustainable transportation option. What is the company doing to reduce its carbon footprint and better serve our schools?

Since 2021, Zum has offset the emissions of its entire school bus fleet. That means each ride offered on every Zum bus in the country is carbon neutral. Zum works to transition all school districts to electric fleets within 3-5 years of signing a contract. Additionally, Zum is committed to transitioning all traditional buses to electric vehicles, thus making its fleet 100% electric, by 2027. We will make related announcements in the coming months. For more details on Zum’s sustainability commitment, click here.

 

About Zum

Zum has reimagined student transportation, the nation’s largest mass transit system. Our robust operations and integrated end-to-end cloud-based platform provides a modern student transportation service for school districts purpose-built around the needs of kids and the expectations of their families. Zum provides one seamless, real-time interface for parents, drivers, schools, districts, administrators, and operators to transport children safely and with increased visibility and personalized care. Always investing in the wellbeing of the communities, Zum is also the only carbon neutral student transportation provider in the nation with plans to go Net Zero with EV transition. Zum is available nationwide, serving more than 4,000 schools across the U.S. Learn more at www.ridezum.com.

 

CONTACT:
press@ridezum.com